A Handful of Teeny Reviews

The Fourth SecretThe Fourth Secret
An Inspector Montalbano Mystery
Andrea Camilleri
Mondadori/Open Road Integrated Media, November 2014ISBN 978-1-4976-8646-5
Ebook

From the publisher—

In the latest mystery featuring Inspector Montalbano, a deadly accident at a building site prompts a search with shocking revelations 

“Yesterday morning around seven thirty, an Albanian construction worker, age thirty-eight, Pashko Puka, a legal resident with a work permit, hired by the Santa Maria construction company owned by Alfredo Corso, fell from a scaffold that had been erected during the construction of an apartment building in Tonnarello, between Vigata and Montelusa. His coworkers, who immediately rushed to his aid, unfortunately discovered he had died.

There have been six events euphemistically called “tragedies in the workplace” in the past month. Six deaths caused by an inexplicable disregard for safety regulations. When the local magistrate opens an investigation, Inspector Montalbano is on the case. But Montalbano soon discovers that these seemingly unrelated incidents are only part of a larger network of crimes.

Over the years, I have enjoyed the Inspector Montalbano books but this novella really doesn’t stand up to the rest of the series. I found that puzzling because, while Montalbano doesn’t have the pleasing personality of, say, Commissario Guido Brunetti (Donna Leon’s protagonist) or Chief of Police Bruno (Martin Walker), he has never struck me as inept or unpleasant. This time he did.

I had an interest in the investigation from the beginning because of the questions surrounding a warning letter and, of all things, a pedicure, but the story was marred for me by two things, the overuse of profanity and the introduction of characters without any sort of explanation as to who they are or why most of them are surly and almost irrational. It felt as though this plotline was lifted from the middle of a full-length novel.

Then, the lightbulb went off. As it turns out, this was actually written years ago so the characters have not enjoyed the growth and evolution that they have when reading the series in order. The second and far more important problem is the translation from the original Italian. Most of the books are quite well done but the same can not be said of this and it is, in fact, a different translator. Sentences are choppy and sometimes make little sense and the translator did not have a thorough understanding of English. It’s just not a top-notch translation and there’s no doubt that hurts the reader’s reception of the characters and the plot.

In the end, while this is certainly not the worst thing I ever read, it’s not a good representation of the enjoyment to be found in the series as a whole. I’d suggest that anyone meeting Inspector Montalbano with this novella ignore it and start over with the first full-length book, The Shape of Water.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Iggy ChroniclesThe Iggy Chronicles, Volume One
A Chet and Bernie Mystery eShort Story
Spencer Quinn
Atria Unbound/Atria Books, August 2013
ISBN 978-1-4767-0360-2
Ebook

From the publisher—

Iggy is a dog who doesn’t get out much, so it’s big news when elderly Mr. Parsons knocks on Bernie’s door to say that Iggy has vanished. In the search for Iggy, Chet and Bernie find Mrs. Parsons unconscious on her bedroom floor, in need of urgent medical care. But it’s only when they arrive at the hospital that things get really interesting.

With a jewel thief making short work of hospital patients’ valuables, it seems that Iggy is not alone in disappearing right out from under somebody’s nose. Suspects are plentiful and witnesses are few. But when little Iggy reappears, tail wagging, it turns out he holds the key to solving the entire affair.

There’s a pet food commercial on TV that features a number of dogs running and leaping. I don’t remember the name of the product but I love to watch the dogs and, every time I see it, I just naturally think of Chet because he takes such joy in life, the way those dogs look like they’re doing. Chet—and, of course, Bernie—are two of my favorite detectives and it’s always a treat to see them again.

This time, their neighbor dog (and Chet’s pal), Iggy, has disappeared and his owner is desperate to find him for his very ill wife. Bernie and Chet take on the job and soon find a second mystery to look into. Our heroes make short work of all this (after all, this IS a short story) and I was quite satisfied with this little visit with the guys.

Fair warning to those who count pages—this story takes up 24 0f the 45 pages and the rest is a blurb and excerpt of the following novel, The Sound and the Furry, along with a few other things.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AmbitionAmbition
A Perception Series Prequel
Lee Strauss
Elle Strauss, November 2012
Ebook

From the author—

AMBITION is a short story (5k) prequel to PERCEPTION, capturing the beginning of Noah and Zoe’s story from Noah’s POV.

Eighteen year old Noah Brody doesn’t like GAPs—Genetically Altered Persons. He’s taken up his dead father’s cause, speaking out and protesting against unfair GAP policies that are responsible for the massive social divide between wealthy GAPs and poorer naturals.

If only he could keep his mind off of perfect Zoe Vanderveen, daughter of the GAP family his mother works for.

And can he really fill his father’s shoes?

About a year and a half ago, I read and reviewed a book called Perception, first in a trilogy. It was a young adult dystopian but not at all typical of the subgenre. Usually, these stories revolve around a repressive society and an underlying resistance from the people being downtrodden. In this case, though, the tale centers on class division brought about be genetic alteration that gives a small portion of the populace distinct advantages in appearance, wealth, lifespan, etc. The two primary characters are Zoe, a GAP, and Noah, a natural. The two are worlds apart in status and privilege.

Ambition offers us a brief look at what Noah is all about and his ambivalence about the cause.  He has a near-hatred of the GAPs but how much of his feeling is “inherited” from his father who spoke out for justice and how much due to his beginning attraction to Zoe who doesn’t even remember his name? It reminded me of what I liked about this young man when I read Perception and these few pages have enticed me to get back to the trilogy as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Chapel PerilousThe Chapel Perilous
A Tale of the Iron Druid Chronicles
Kevin Hearne
Kevin Hearne, January 2014
Previously published in Unfettered, 2013
ISBN 978-0-9914238-0-4
Ebook

From the author—

Ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan has had plenty of adventures during his long life, and in “The Chapel Perilous” he shares one of them with his apprentice, Granuaile. He lays out the true story of the quest for the Holy Grail, in which he was personally involved—and the events of which are quite different from the Christian tale most people know today.

While on an errand for Ogma to recover the Dagda’s Cauldron, Atticus confronts evil at a mysterious chapel, takes the first steps to becoming the Iron Druid, and learns the shocking truth about goblin fashion choices.

He was, of course, in terrible peril.

The adventures of Atticus and his faithful hound, Oberon, have entertained me mightily since the very first book, Hounded (although I’m a little less enthused with the most recent one, Shattered) and the accompanying novellas and short stories are always fun, too. The Chapel Perilous continues the tradition.

The whole idea of a Holy Grail that isn’t quite the same Holy Grail we all know about is wonderful, made even more so because it’s set way back before Atticus became the Iron Druid with so much power. There’s not a lot of Oberon in this story and, since I adore him, that made me a little sad at first but then this other critter shows up that had me laughing out loud.  Apple Jack is worth the story all by himself and, even if you’ve never read any of the chronicles, you can still enjoy this fellow.

Is this short story as engaging as the novels? No, of course not, as it’s not possible to have much depth in such a few pages but it’s a nice fill-in between books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Honor CodeHonor Code
Cathy Perkins
Cathy Perkins, December 2012
ISBN 978-1481035897
Trade Paperback

From the author—

In a small southern town where everyone knows each other’s business, veteran detective Larry Robbins must solve the disappearance of eighty-year-old widower George Beason.

When evidence arises that Beason may have left town on his own, it would be easy for Robbins to close the case, but his gut instinct tells him more’s at stake. As he uncovers clues about Beason’s deceased wife and his estranged daughter, Robbins must untangle conflicting motives and hidden agendas to bring Beason home alive.

A missing man, a murdered pet, a cop’s family issues, retribution—they’re all here in this novella, a standalone. When George Beason disappears and his home seems to have been ransacked, Detective Larry Robbins and his young partner, Jerry Jordan, are puzzled as to whether a crime has occurred or a slovenly old man has simply wandered off but there are enough unresolved questions to keep Robbins looking for answers. The daughter that should be concerned is much less than helpful and it’s hints that older crimes may come into play that draw Robbins and Jordan further into the investigation, even after Beason is caught on a security camera, apparently unharmed.

Reaching back into the past, to events in Baghdad, the author reminds us of how the past is never completely done and can have far-reaching effects many years later. At the same time, family honor sometimes takes precedence over all else but a not quite completely jaded cop can still make a difference in his community. It’s this aspect of Larry Robbins that drew me into the story more than the crimes themselves and I hope we’ll see more of him some day.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

Advertisements

Book Reviews: Dog Gone, Back Soon by Nick Trout, The Ashes That Remain by A.M. Griffin and The Whispers by Lisa Unger

Dog Gone, Back SoonDog Gone, Back Soon
Nick Trout
Hyperion, April 2014
ISBN 978-1-401-31089-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Dr. Cyrus Mills returned home after inheriting his estranged father’s veterinary practice, The Bedside Manor for Sick Animals, the last thing he wanted was to stay in Eden Falls, Vermont, a moment longer than absolutely necessary. However, the previously reclusive veterinarian pathologist quickly found that he actually enjoyed treating animals and getting to know the eccentric residents of the tiny provincial town-especially an alluring waitress named Amy.

So Cyrus is now determined to make Bedside Manor thrive. Not an easy goal, given that Healthy Paws, the national veterinary chain across town, will stop at nothing to crush its mom-and-pop competitor. And the rival vet practice isn’t Cyrus’s only competition; a handsome stranger shows up out of nowhere who clearly has a mysterious past with Amy. To top it off, Cyrus finds himself both the guardian of a very unique orphaned dog and smack in the middle of serious small town drama.

 

I’m a pushover for veterinarian stories, fiction or nonfiction, no matter where they take place, and Dog Gone, Back Soon filled the bill quite nicely indeed. It’s funny; I know I’m going to get essentially the same tale every time but that never feels same old same old like it does in other books. I include country (human) doctor and small town minister stories in the same bag—they’re all what I call comfort fiction and nonfiction and, basically, they can do very little wrong in my eyes. When it comes to veterinarian authors, James Herriot is the gold standard for me, and Nick Trout has followed in his footsteps in a lovely way.

The cynical Cyrus is a guy I could relate to, feeling guilt over the way he and his father spent recent years but intent on bringing his dad’s practice back from the brink of failure without destroying its appeal to local animal lovers. I found myself rooting him on in his efforts, especially as he begins to realize how much it means to him and that he really does love this small town and its four-legged and two-legged citizens.

A bit of romance is not out of order and there’s a gentle humor about the troubled path of love between him and Amy. Still, it’s Cyrus’s battles against the “evil” conglomerate and his growing attachment to a Labradoodle service dog named Stash that truly drew me in.

I hold out my hand in front of Stash’s mouth. “Stash, lick.” Nothing. “Stash, lick.” Not a flicker in his eyes. Either this is not in hisrepertoire or, more likely, I’m using the wrong language.

“Stash, pucker up.”

No dice.

“Stash, kiss.”

The world goes black as sixty pounds of dog leaps onto my chest and begins coating every exposed surface of my skin with a shellac of saliva from a serpentine tongue.

“Stash, sit, Stash, sit.”

It’s as if the feeding frenzy never happened, Stash calm and distant, me dripping drool and panting.

Stash probably should be on the cover but the English Mastiff, Tallulah, is his first patient so that’s OK. My other favorite stars of the show were an obese cat named Marmalade Succabone , a cow named Ermintrude and a taxidermied dog named Crispin. I was also more than a bit fond of a pair of teens named Charlie Brown and Gabe Stiles and office manager Doris.

Dog Gone, Back Soon is the sequel to The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs. Since I now have to claim Dr. Trout as one of my favorite authors, I’m heading over to get Patron Saint just as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Ashes That RemainThe Ashes That Remain
Cimmerian Moon #2
A.M. Griffin
Three Twenty-One, August 2014
Ebook
From the author—

We’re at war against the aliens that have invaded Earth, fighting the only way we can—by surviving. I have more than most people do, but although I know it’s stupid to hold on, I can’t let go of what might have been—can’t help dreaming of something more. No matter how I tell myself it would be easier to do what everyone else wants me to, there’s a part of me that can’t give in.
Making the best of the situation is one thing. Settling, even to make other people happy, is something else.

Then we hear the alien mother ships have disappeared. Of course we have to go and investigate. What we find lands us in a huge mess that we somehow have to clean up and, as our little enclave is rocked to the core with even more changes, I’m learning a hard lesson.

The more things change—for the better or the worse—there’s no fighting human nature, and building on the ashes that remain will take everything we have. And maybe more.

 

I mentioned in my earlier review of Against the Darkness that worldbuilding was somewhat lacking but that didn’t impede my enjoyment of the novel. The same lack continues in this second book but it mostly revolves around not knowing what the aliens are really here for; we know much more this time about how our small band of humans is surviving, actually thriving in some ways.

Time hasn’t passed much since we left Sinta and her companions at the end of Against the Darkness but there has been a distinct change in the teens, a maturing that only dire circumstances can bring about. Sinta and Mia are still thick as thieves and Ian, Wade, Jason and MJ are as likeable as I remembered them but their travails have turned them into thoughtful and self-reliant young adults who have melded into a community with little trouble. in fact, were it not for the aliens, Iife would be fairly decent. However, the lizards are still around and, when disaster strikes, some of the crew sets out on a rescue mission fraught with peril from rats and the cold as well as the lizards. Most puzzling is the recent news that the alien population may be thinning out.

Romance plays a much larger role in this second book but an amusing passage about the Sinta-Wade-Jason love triangle with 10-year-old Brook and teens Lexi, Sinta and Mia in the cafeteria helps make said triangle a little more palatable. Mia makes fun of the drama, as I have done in my own thoughts, and Brook gazes off with her dreamy musings about an “older man” named MJ.

As with the first book, it’s unfortunate that this book is riddled with construction errors, primarily typos and incorrect word choices, but I’m still completely engaged and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, In Danger’s Embrace, coming this winter.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The WhispersThe Whispers
A Whispers Story #1
Lisa Unger
Pocket Star, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-4767-9778-6
Ebook

From the publisher—

It’s a day like any other for Eloise Montgomery—until tragedy strikes. While she is recovering from a horrible accident that takes the lives of her husband and oldest daughter, and as she works to help her younger daughter move forward, Eloise experiences her first psychic vision. Though she struggles to understand her newfound gifts, Eloise finds a way use them to save lost women and girls—for whom her help may be the only way out…

 

Lisa Unger is one of my go-to authors when I’m in the mood for a thriller, something intense and nail-biting, a book that will keep me up at night. She does it so very, very well  😉 but The Whispers really doesn’t fit  the mold. The first of three short stories that comprise a novella, this is more of the psychological suspense sort and I was not the least bit disappointed.

After the tragic deaths of her husband and elder daughter, Eloise is nearly crushed emotionally and, yet, she’s strong enough to stay focused on her younger daughter, Amanda, who may not be suffering physically but is just as wracked with survivor’s guilt. When Eloise begins to have psychic visions, she’s naturally confused and disturbed but she’s driven to pass the information about these missing girls and women on to the authorities. Why is she hearing whispers and “seeing” these people in extreme distress? We don’t really know—perhaps more answers will be forthcoming in the next two short stories—but the true essence here is how the four lived a life of love and normalcy and then what’s left after the accident. It’s a compelling tale and I’m looking forward to the second story, The Burning Girl, due out in late November.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

A Handful of Shorts

PlaguePlague
Lisa C. Hinsley
Pocket Star Books, December 2013
ISBN 78-1-4767-3336-4
Ebook

From the publisher—

A new strain of the bubonic plague is diagnosed in London. Before it can be contained it spreads through the population, faster and deadlier than anyone could have imagined. Three weeks is all it takes to decimate the country.

Johnny and Liz are devastated when their young son, Nathan, starts to show symptoms, but Liz phones the authorities anyway, and a few hours later the army arrives and boards up their house.

Now Nathan is dying and there is nothing they can do to help him. Hours pass like weeks as their little boy grows weaker and weaker. All Liz wants is for them to die with some dignity, but the authorities refuse to help. Then their Internet and phones stop working. Cut off from the world and stuck inside their house, the family tries its best to cope—but there is nothing they can do to stop the lethal epidemic.

Plague by Lisa C. Hinsley is a pandemic-based thriller in which a mutated strain of bubonic plague hits London and races through the population in three weeks. The core of the story is what happens to a young family when the government, in its zeal to stop the disease, quarantines the neighborhood, and maybe much more, but then the military and the scientists disappear.

The most vibrant character is Liz, who is the quintessential mother figure determined to do whatever she can for as long as she can. Along with Liz, I felt the fear when her house is boarded up by the government and there is little to hope for.

I happen to be very fond of this kind of story that revolves around a natural disaster or pandemic and, while this novella is a bit reminiscent of other such novels, it’s really well written and held my attention from beginning to end, wanting to know if there would be any salvation.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Missing Remote of the ApocalypseThe Missing Remote of the Apocalypse
An Afterworlds Short Story
Afterworlds 0.5
Barry Hutchison
HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2012
Ebook

From the publisher—

A prequel to the comedy fantasy The 13th Horseman, “The Missing Remote of the Apocalypse” sees War, Famine and Pestilence bounced around the Afterworlds due to circumstances beyond their control. They come face to face with a surprised demon, visit the lair of Sedna the She Cannibal (they’ve never met her before, but everyone says she’s a right cow) before finally winding up somewhere worse than they could ever have dreamed…

Why does Pestilence hate Tuesdays? Who gets to be the pink Hungry Hippo? Who’s the guy wearing bunny slippers and a leopard-print dressing gown? Most critical of all, where is the doofer?

Need I say more? Well, I suppose I could but you can find the answers yourself for FREE on Mr. Hutchison‘s website right here. Let this little short story introduce you to the master of mayhem that is Barry Hutchison 😉

Kinda sorta reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Charmed I'm SureCharmed I’m Sure
World of Pax Arcana
Elliott James
Orbit, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-316-25345-1
Ebook

From the publisher—

When Tom Morris encounters a naked man walking along the interstate with no memory of how he got there, the smart thing to do is drive away. The only problem is, Tom Morris has secrets of his own. Like the fact that he comes from a long line of witch finders, monster slayers, and enchantment breakers, or that his real name is Charming. John Charming.

This is one of four shorts written in the universe of Elliott‘s novel, Charming, an urban fantasy. John Charming comes from a long line of monster hunters. In this short story, he runs into a wila, sort of a nasty-tempered and mesmerizingly beautiful nymph, who has been collecting and disposing of, in gruesome ways, hapless human men. Mayhem ensues when our hero sets out to end her fun. Lots of fighting, man versus monster, a touch of humor here and there.

Charming seems to be a bit of a cross between Jack Reacher (mystery thriller series by Lee Child) and Atticus O’Sullivan (The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some might think the full-length novel should be read first for a better understanding of Charming but I didn’t feel that way; this just makes me want to read more and I will be doing so posthaste.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Apocalyptic Organ GrinderApocalyptic Organ Grinder
A Hydra Dystopian Novella
William Todd Rose
Hydra/Random House, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-345-54914-3
Ebook

From the publisher—

A fatal virus—a biowarfare experiment unleashed on an unsuspecting world—has reduced the once-mighty United States to a smattering of tribes dueling for survival in the lawless wilderness. The disease-free folk known as Settlers barricade themselves in small villages, determined to keep out the highly contagious Spewers—infected humans who cannot die from the virus but spread the seeds of death from the festering blisters that cover their bodies.
 
Tanner Kline is a trained Sweeper, sworn to exterminate Spewers roaming the no-man’s-land surrounding his frightened community. As all Settlers do, Tanner dismisses them as little more than savages—until he meets his match in Spewer protector Lila. But when hunter and hunted clash, their bloody tango ignites a firestorm of fear and hatred. Now, no one is safe from the juggernaut of terror that rages unchecked, and the fate of humanity hangs on questions with no answers: Who’s right, who’s wrong . . . and who’s going to care if everyone’s dead?

This is SUCH a cool book for those like me who love post-apocalyptic fiction.  What’s left of society has devolved into the most primitive existence and two clans are pitted against each other. The Settlers are as healthy as possible in a world of limited hygiene and medical skills while the Spewers are diseased and infectious, not welcome among the Settlers or anywhere nearby. The Spewers are the new version of Typhoid Marys and literally could destroy the little that’s left of humanity.

Still, the two groups have managed to co-exist by keeping their distance but that will all change when Tanner meets Lila and sees for himself that the Spewers are not just carriers of pestilence and, yet, can’t bring himself to believe they deserve any compassion. The increasing tension and anger that affect both sides is palpable and I found myself drawn to Lila as much as to Tanner but deciding which faction is more deserving of survival is a question still roiling in my mind. Mr. Rose has presented a conundrum that may not have any easy solution, leaving his readers much to think about, indeed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

Some Teeny Reviews

The First LieThe First Lie
Diane Chamberlain
St. Martin’s Press, June 2013
ISBN 9781466839403
Ebook Short Story

From the publisher—

An e-original short story that sets the stage for bestselling author Diane Chamberlain’s novel Necessary Lies (September 2013).

The First Lie gives readers an early glimpse into the life of thirteen-year-old Ivy Hart. It’s 1958 in rural North Carolina, where Ivy lives with her grandmother and sister on a tobacco farm. As tenant farmers, Ivy and her family don’t have much freedom, though she and her best friend, Henry, often sneak away in search of adventure…and their truest selves. But life on the farm takes a turn when Ivy’s teenage sister gives birth—all the while maintaining her silence about the baby’s father. Soon Ivy finds herself navigating the space between adolescence and adulthood as she tries to unravel a dark web of family secrets and make sense of her ever-evolving life in the segregated South. 

First, I want to point out that this is a short story intended as a lead-in to Necessary Lies, the author’s new full-length novel coming out in September . I’m sorry to say that Ms. Chamberlain has received quite a few “reviews” castigating her for it’s length and cost (99 cents) despite the fact the description very clearly labels it as a short story which, in the publisher’s words, sets the stage for the new book. It could not have been stated any more plainly.

Set in the rural South, this tale introduces us to a young teen and her very limited world. It’s easy to imagine what Ivy’s life is like amid the societal issues of the day including teen unwed pregnancy and the possibility of forbidden interracial relations at a time such a thing was potentially dangerous and certainly life-altering. The first lie might be the identity of the baby’s father but an even greater lie festers and reminds us of one of the most shameful episodes in our collective past. I have never read anything by this author until now but these few pages have really engaged me in Ivy’s story and make me want to see what her future will be.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

How to Talk to Girls at PartiesHow to Talk to Girls at Parties
Neil Gaiman
William Morrow, June 2013
ISBN 9780062293572
Ebook Short Story

I’ve read a lot of Neil Gaiman‘s work but not Fragile Things, his short story collection that includes this story, so it’s new to me. As much as I love pretty much anything Gaiman-esque, I have to say “Huh?” about this one.

A shy, geeky teenager and his more socially experienced buddy head out to a party where they expect to meet lots of girls and, hopefully, manage a kiss or two but they somehow end up at the wrong party—a VERY wrong party.  Enn and Vic soon discover that girls are, indeed, a most alien species and it’s no wonder they’re so hard to understand.  Gaiman‘s usual weirdness is in full flow here with moments of tension (are the boys in danger of being eaten?) and humor (one of the girls informs Enn that she loves being a tourist) but all seems to be going well when Vic suddenly drags Enn away and the two boys race to escape.  Escape from what? Well, let your imagination do the walking, dear readers.

Reading anything by Neil Gaiman is worthwhile but, to be honest, I can’t figure out why this story was chosen to introduce a teaser for his new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane rather than another one or even a new one. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. This little ebook is no longer available so, to get your Gaiman fix, go buy the new book!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Black CabBlack Cab
David Bain
A/A Productions, 2010
ISBN 9781458043252
Ebook Short Story

From the author—

The black cabs kidnapping citizens off the streets of Chicago were thought to be just another urban legend – until the day Benny decided to hail one.

Benny noticed there was something strange about the cab he almost got into that night but he was tired and cranky, he and Maria had had another argument and he’d been living in the flower truck for two days so hailing a cab seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t.

Benny should have listened to his barmate, Ty. Ty knew things because he was a cop and he tried to tell Benny and Luckey, the bar owner, that black cabs were involved in some strange doings all over the world and that it had all happened once before, years ago.

So why is the black cab following Benny?

Black Cab is a delicious little story, only a few pages, that will leave you creeped out and wondering…

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Spartan FrostSpartan Frost
A Mythos Academy Novella
Jennifer Estep
K-Teen Books, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-7582-9477-7
Ebook Novella

From the publisher—

I’m Logan Quinn, the deadliest Spartan warrior at Mythos Academy. At least I was–until the day I almost killed Gwen Frost.

Professor Metis and Nickamedes say that I’m fine, that Loki and the Reapers don’t have a hold on me anymore, but I can’t risk it. I can’t risk hurting Gwen again. So I’m leaving Mythos and going somewhere far, far away.

I know Gwen wonders what’s happening to me, whether I’m safe. I can’t tell her, but this is my story. . .

Before anybody jumps to the mistaken conclusion that they’ve gotten ripped off when they buy this book, please note this is a novella, not a full-length novel. Yes, it says “Novel” on the cover but I don’t think there is any intent on the publisher’s part to trick anyone; using that word is just a carryover from the rest of the series. I also want to warn you about one other thing—I jump into the middle of a series all the time because, as a reviewer, I rarely have a choice. I can do it without feeling completely lost because I’ve become accustomed to it but I’m pretty sure many other readers will not want Spartan Frost to be their introduction to the series because there’s so much that’s unknown to the initiate. Having said that, I enjoyed this a lot.

One other warning—the review section on bn.com has been highjacked by an RPG group. I reported it but Barnes & Noble almost certainly will do nothing about it. As a result, you should be aware that a number of the so-called reviews have nothing to do with this book.

Considering the fact that I’m an initiate to the Mythos Academy series, what did I learn from this particular title?

A guy named Logan tried to kill a girl named Gwen
Logan is riddled with guilt, so much so that he can’t bear to be around Gwen or his other friends
Logan has left North Carolina and gone to live with his dad in upstate New York
Logan and his dad, Linus, are uncomfortable with each other because of animosities that developed after Logan’s mom and sister were murdered
Gwen knew something had “possessed” Logan, driving him to try to kill her
Logan was possessed by Loki, the unruly Norse god
Logan’s stepmother is a royal beyotch with a mean streak that won’t quit and you might say Cinderella’s stepmom could take lessons from this one
Linus is the head of the Protectorate and has a pair of very cool warrior buddies
The four guys head out on a mission to destroy a sleeper cell of Reapers
There are two opposing groups, Reapers and Spartans, and they seem to be fighting about gods and goddesses among other things
Reapers are bad
Spartans are good
Reapers have been stealing museum artifacts but the Protectorate doesn’t know why
Linus has a cool table with gargoyle legs

You see, even though I’m new to the series, I learned a lot from this brief introduction. Some longtime fans may feel there’s nothing new here but it was perfect for me, just a small taste. It’s enough to make me want to go find First Frost and Touch of Frost so I can start to catch up with everyone else.

One thing confuses me—this is Logan’s POV and all about him so why is there a girl (Gwen?) on the cover?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Secrets of the SibylThe Secrets of the Sibyl
Nancy Adams
Green Fern Press, May 2012
Ebook

From the author—

A decaying villa filled with secrets… A mysterious box that belonged to a dead girl… A spectral woman in white… All of them hold the Secrets of the Sibyl.

A short Gothic tale set in the Roman world of 382 A.D.

When her father buys a dilapidated villa on the wild, rocky coast of Cumae, city of the ancient Sibyline oracle, fourteen-year-old Cellina encounters mysteries at every turn. Following the trail of a mysterious silver box, Cellina uncovers the secret of a decades-old crime committed within the villa’s crumbling walls.

Fans of historical fiction and/or historical mystery will appreciate this little tale that revolves around a silver box and the secrets it contains. Cellina is a young girl I’d like to know more about and an unspoken mystery to me is why her father would spend his money on a summer home that is mostly in quite shabby condition. The desire to own property is understandable but he seems to be really enamored with this particular place despite its serious shortcomings and his wife’s objections.

Cellina and her family are interesting characters and I hope the author will be able to share her novels with us soon so we can spend more time with these ancient Romans—I enjoyed them too much to want to let go.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

 

A Handful of Teeny Reviews: The Enchanted Truth by Kym Petrie, Hunt for the Chupacabra by Michael Hebler, A Gnarly Christmas by Lauren Carr, Lucretia and the Kroons by Victor LaValle, and Bruno and the Carol Singers by Martin Walker

The Enchanted TruthThe Enchanted Truth
A Modern-Day Fairy Tale for Grown-Up Girls

Kym Petrie
Greenleaf Book Group, September 2012
ISBN 978-1-60832-368-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In this humorous and insightful tale, a modern day princess finds herself single and asking for magical intervention to change her sorry love life. Rather than casting a spell to bring Prince Charming to her rescue, a savvy fairy godmother gives the tenderhearted damsel an unexpected gift. By entrusting her true thoughts and desires to an unlikely confidant, the young royal soon discovers that the person who could make her life everything she dreamed it would be has been with her all along.

As author Kym Petrie herself realized, every woman needs a froggy friend and a secret journal—and enough adventures with the girls to keep her heart pounding and her mind racing. Life is meant to be about happy beginnings . . . you can never have enough of them.

In a departure from the usual fairy tale where Prince Charming sweeps the princess off her feet, the author has crafted a sort of allegory meant for the modern girl who’s looking for her true love. The princess of this tale learns, with a little help from a fairy godmother and a rubber frog, that finding the handsome prince is not enough.

The tale is brief but the message comes through clearly—today’s women need to learn to recognize their own worth if they want men to value them and they also need to value those men who are more than just a pretty face or a fat wallet. Many parents of teenaged girls might want to consider dropping this endearing little book in their daughters’ Christmas stockings.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hunt for the ChupacabraHunt for the Chupacabra
Michael Hebler
Michael Hebler, June 2011
ISBN 978-1-4581321-5-4
Ebook

From the author—

A retired Confederate tracker persues the elusive and legendary creature for some well-deserved revenge. “Hunt for the Chupacabra” is a short story that precludes Book One of the Chupacabra Series, “Night of the Chupacabra”.

Is it real or just a legend, a figment of some very wild imaginations? No one can say for sure but Calvin Hawte is on a mission to avenge the death of his young son and will track the killer to the ends of the earth if need be. He might be surprised at what he will find out there in the desert.

This is a very short story but well-written and, well, creepy as a good horror story should be. It’s a good lead-in to Night of the Chupacabra, first in Michael Hebler‘s new series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Gnarly ChristmasA Gnarly Christmas
Lauren Carr
Acorn Book Services, November 2012
Ebook

From the author—

Here’s a special holiday treat for mystery lovers who have fallen in love with Gnarly, Mac Faraday’s German Shepherd sidekick, from Lauren Carr‘s Deep Creek Lake Mysteries.

It is Christmas day and Gnarly has been up to his old tricks again. Now he’s in the dog house–or rather the boathouse–after stealing the Christmas feast! Moments after Archie and Mac leave Spencer Manor, Gnarly hears a call for help from Rocky, the Maltese down the street. Four assassins for hire have invaded the home of Rocky’s elderly owners. While the home invaders wait for instructions from a mysterious caller, Gnarly must plot to stop them. Can Gnarly save Christmas with only the help of an 8-pound Maltese dressed in an elf suit?

Need a good laugh? You won’t go wrong with this delightful story of a dog who gets into trouble for swiping the Christmas turkey but who doesn’t forget that he’s a protector. Gnarly teams up with a tiny floofy dog named Rocky to foil the plans of a bunch of bad guys bent on mayhem and how the two get the best of the murderous robbers is a hoot. Gnarly even manages to let Rocky take the credit for saving the day but there’s still a mystery—why has Gnarly been stealing food lately?

Sit down with Gnarly and Rocky for a few minutes of pure fun—and don’t forget that fat squirrel named Otis!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lucretia and the KroonsLucretia and the Kroons
Victor LaValle
Spiegel & Grau/Random House, July 2012
ISBN 978-0-8129-8437-8
Ebook

From the publisher—

Lucretia’s best friend and upstairs neighbor Sunny—a sweet pitbull of a kid, even as she struggles with a mysterious illness—has gone missing. The only way to get her back is for Lucretia to climb the rickety fire escape of their Queens tenement and crawl through the window of apartment 6D, portal to a vast shadowland of missing kids ruled by a nightmarish family of mutants whose designs on the children are unknown. Her search for Sunny takes Lucretia through a dark fantasyland where she finds lush forests growing from concrete, pigeon-winged rodents, and haunted playgrounds. Her quest ultimately forces her to confront the most frightening specter of all: losing, forever, the thing you love the most.

Central to this novella is a 12-year-old girl named Lucretia but this is no story for children. In a flight of fancy, LaValle explores how a child might cope with the death of a friend, a best friend, and these two children both capture the reader’s heart. Not all of us suffer this kind of loss at such a young age and I have to wonder if, perhaps, the author did.

How much Loochie loves Sunny is evident and endearing and the scenes of what’s going on with Sunny are heartbreaking, especially because they let us know what is most probably going to happen. Even knowing that, I couldn’t help admiring Loochie’s absolute belief that she could save her friend when Sunny goes missing. Despite the fearsome Kroons and winged rats and all sorts of fantastical frights, Loochie presses on and her bravery and steadfast loyalty are a lesson to anyone who has to face such a terrible loss.

Lucretia and the Kroons is my first taste of Victor LaValle‘s work and I’ll be looking for more.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bruno and the Carol SingersBruno and the Carol Singers
Martin Walker
Alfred A. Knopf, December 2012
ISBN 978-0-385-35031-0
Ebook

From the publisher—

St. Denis is experiencing its coldest winter in years—bringing the promise of snow and shared chocolats chauds in the village’s cafés—and Bruno is occupied with his Christmastime duties. From organizing carolers to playing Father Christmas for the local schoolchildren, Bruno has his hands full . . . at least until some funds raised for charity go missing. Then it’s up to Bruno to save the day (and perhaps manage a Christmas miracle) in this charming holiday installment of Walker’s best-selling series.

In this appealing short story, Christmas has come to St. Denis and Bruno is right in the middle of the festivities when he gets a call about a paroled convict who has disappeared from the town where he was living while he completed the last months of his sentence.  His ex-wife and son now live in St. Denis, hence the call to Bruno. Is this man bent on harming his family or will Bruno be able to pull off a Christmas miracle?

Fans of Bruno will feel right at home with this French municipal policeman and his friends and will wish they could sit down to Christmas Eve dinner with Bruno, Pamela and the others.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

Book Review: A Fistful of Collars by Spencer Quinn

A Fistful of Collars
Spencer Quinn
Atria Books, September 2012
ISBN 978-1-4516-6516-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Hoping to bring some Tinseltown money to the Valley, the mayor lures a movie studio to town to shoot their next production, a big-budget Western in the classic tradition. The star is none other than ruggedly handsome—and notoriously badly behaved—Thad Perry. When the mayor decides that someone needs to keep an eye on Thad so that he doesn’t get into too much trouble, Bernie and Chet are handpicked for the job. The money is good but something smells fishy, and what should have been a simple matter of babysitting soon gets more complicated—especially when they discover that Thad has a mysterious connection to the Valley that nobody wants to talk about. What kind of secret could Thad have left behind when he went to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune? The only people who might know the answer have a bad habit of turning up dead before they can talk.

As Bernie’s relationship with his longtime girlfriend Suzie goes long-distance, and Chet’s late-night assignations appear to have resulted in an unexpected dividend, it’s all our two sleuths can do to keep Thad and his motley entourage of yes-men, handlers, and hangers-on in their sights. Worst of all, Thad is a self-proclaimed cat person, and his feline friend Brando has taken an instant dislike to Chet.

Books featuring animals, particularly dogs and cats, are very popular with many readers. Especially in the mystery field, they appear as major characters, talking among themselves and sometimes to their favorite humans and frequently they sleuth with vim and vigor. Do readers find this entertaining? A lot of us do but there are also many who wouldn’t read one of these books  under any circumstances. Usually, it’s because they don’t like the aspect of the animals acting like humans.

And then there’s Chet.

Chet and Bernie make an unusual pair of detectives and, yes, Chet does contribute to their investigations but not through supernatural or Beatrix Potterish means. Chet is a K-9 school flunkee so he “knows” a bit about detective work but he is, in fact, a dog and his sleuthing generally involves him pursuing normal dog routines, such as following scents. What makes Chet different in the mystery novel arena is (1) his close bond with Bernie and (2) his narration of the story.

Seeing and hearing the story through Chet’s eyes and voice is fun, especially when he ruminates on the strange ways of Bernie and other humans and offers his observations on life during the investigations, not to Bernie but to the reader. The enticing things that distract him at any given moment, squirrels and burgers and so forth, add to the charm and his devotion to Bernie (and Bernie’s devotion to Chet) is completely natural.

Is this a gripping, intellectual thriller? No, not at all, but the puzzle and the resultant inquiries are engaging. Add in the pleasures of Chet’s and Bernie’s partnership and the reader will enjoy a few hours of pure entertainment with more than the occasional smile. I’ve had fun with every Chet and Bernie Mystery so far and A Fistful of Collars is another good one.

Oh, and you don’t want to miss Brando the cat.

(Psst. Check out Quinn‘s new short story, A Cat Was Involved, to finally learn how Chet failed K-9 school.)

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2012.

Short Story Review: Saint Nick and the Fir Tree by Nancy Adams

St. Nick and the Fir TreeSaint Nick and the Fir Tree
Nancy Adams
Green Fern Press, November 2011
ISBN 9780984815302
Trade Paperback
Also available in ebook format

Tree is really a yew but likes to pretend he’s a fir. After all, yews make people think of all kinds of sad scenarios while firs bring the cheer of Christmas. Who wouldn’t want to be a fir? Tree also has a sense of adventure so when Santa Claus comes to town for his annual after-Christmas vacation, Tree is absolutely thrilled when Santa gives him a present and asks him to take a walk.

Wait—take a walk? Trees can’t walk! Then again, this IS Santa and Santa DOES mean magic so off they go. To avoid being spotted by the neighbors, Tree is in disguise with sunglasses and a tasseled ski cap. Santa and Tree have a grand old time until they get lost in the snow…and find the body. Has there been foul play? Is a murderer on the loose?

At this time of year, we become more and more frantic as Christmas approaches and it’s a pleasure when we find a few moments to just relax and enjoy the season. What better way to spend those few moments than reading—perhaps aloud to family and friends—such a charming tale as this? Saint Nick and the Fir Tree is the perfect little story to get one in the proper mood for the holidays.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Congratulations to Melba L. May, winner of a copy of

“Saint Nick and the Fir Tree” by Nancy Adams!